Ride the Progression

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life

I just got back from my annual trip to ride with Buck Brannaman. I’ll be posting in a few installments about the “buzz” words if you will, from this time around.

The principles drilled into us at this clinic are as follows:

  • Have a purpose.
  • Be Precise
  • Be consistent.
  • Be punctual. 
  • If you’ve had to go to Plan B, stick with THAT ONE THIING until Plan A Works. 
  • Use progressions, they’re progressions for a reason.

I’m going to start with talking about progressions. They’re a tough thing for a person to grasp – though those of us that’ve been starting colts for a while, pretty much grasp the things you need a colt to do before you get on them, and the “usual” order of things.

Nathan, Buck's assistant, handling a troubled horse.

Nathan, Buck’s assistant, handling a troubled horse.

A horse must be able to bend, with and without moving their feet, you’ve got to get their hips disengaging BEFORE you can move on to getting their shoulders to come through (turn around on their back end), and you’ve got to have them comfortable moving through all three gaits. As the lateral flexion gets good, you get vertical flexion at the backup, and start working on your soft feel.

I’m going to start with some simple progressions you could work on with your horse, and then we will move on to some more advanced progressions.

1. The horse must be able to travel through the walk/trot/lope transition on a loose rein, and he must be able to go down on a loose rein. You want him to carry proper lateral flexion (nose and eye tipped slightly inside) if you were working these transitions in a circle, or if you’re working an open serpentine. For the record, all of the above can be taught on the end of a lead rope.

2. He’s got to understand soft feel and you’ve got to be able to hold it at the walk, trot and lope. But before you can hold it, he’s got to understand how to give. Like anything you start with your horse, you reward each try. So when he can hold it a few steps at the walk, then you might work on picking up that soft feel at the trot. It may take you two strides, or thirty, to get him to give, but you release when he tries. That said, if you’ve done your groundwork, and your horse is good laterally, it shouldn’t take as long to get that vertical flexion (soft feel). When you can get that soft feel at the walk or trot when you ask, every time you ask, with no lag time, then you’d move on to the trot/lope. When he can hold it at each transition you might then work on holding that soft feel for the transition down.

Buck on Big Swede, working the turn around. Soft feel, balanced face, and rocked back. Pretty, right?

Buck on Big Swede, working the turn around. Soft feel, balanced face, and rocked back. Pretty, right?

3. Working on the downward transition with the soft feel would be the first way you’d help your horse to understand how to hold that soft feel. Going up with the soft feel is harder for them to understand.

4. When you’ve got your soft feel working for you (both up and down) and they weigh nothing more when you let it go than they did when you pick up, that’s when you might start working on holding that soft feel in a half circle.

There are progressions in your half circles as well as in the up/down movements of your horses. They’d work like this:

1. A half circle on a loose rein having the horse swing/reach that inside front foot through the turn, and have it weigh nothing. You’ll want the front quarters reaching more than the hind. And you want that horse to learn to shape around your inside leg, remembering that proper leg position would dictate your inside leg is back, outside leg is forward. Also, we want to be aware of proper flexion during any/all of our loose rein work, especially if you’re interested in making a bridle horse.

2. A half circle carrying the soft feel.

3. A half circle at the trot carrying the soft feel.

4. A half circle at the trot, with a leg yield toward the fence (shoulders leading), having the horse carry that soft feel. When you’ve completed the leg yield and are going straight, release that soft feel and either continue trotting, or pick up a soft feel and let the horse go to the walk. A leg yield is a relatively advanced maneuver for the horse to learn, and should be taught once the horse can carry a soft feel up and down through gait transitions. That’s not to say you don’t work on it, and try to get a step or two, but vertical and lateral flexion have to be working pretty good for you to get them to go sideways while staying in proper flexion.




5. A half circle at the trot, with the leg yield toward the fence (shoulders leading), and at the deepest part of that leg yield, when the shoulders are far away from the hips, ask for a canter departure, but your horse MUST BE SOFT and weigh nothing or you’re not going to be very successful. Also, if you ask for the lead departure late (or past that sweet spot), you’re not doing your horse any good either.

6. A half circle at the lope, break to the trot for a stride or two, leg yield, pick up the lead again, and then finally you’d not break to the trot at all and voila, you’re changing leads.

I’m sure in reading this, I make it sound super simple, when in reality, if your horse wasn’t started with quality handling, was forced to learn things — instead of being allowed to search for the answer– this is going to take you much longer to accomplish, than if you were on a colt that has been started this way.

Happy Trails and Happy Riding!

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life

About Jenn Zeller

Jenn Zeller is the creative mind and boss lady behind The South Dakota Cowgirl. She is an aspiring horsewoman, photographer, brilliant social media strategist and lover of all things western. After a brief career in the investment world to support her horse habit (and satisfy her...

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